Asheville Repairs Leaders Elsewhere Propose Black Census
ASHEVILLE – Leaders of local reparations movements across the country have called for a black census and grassroots movements that will urge the federal government to act.
These representatives of places like Asheville; Evanston, Illinois; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Columbia University spoke on November 6 at the West North Carolina African-American Annual Conference at UNC Asheville.
“The United States of America took out a loan. And with this loan, they began to build an economic superpower unmatched in modern times,” said Keith Young, former city council member and architect of the initiative. Asheville Repairs, in the first conference speech. “However, this loan that the Americans took was never repaid. The underwriter of this loan is none other than Black America.”
Darin Waters, former professor at UNC Asheville and co-host of Blue Ridge Public Radio’s âWaters and Harvey Showâ opened the conference. Newly appointed deputy secretary for archives and the history of natural and cultural resources for North Carolina, Waters said he was happy to see “all the work underway in our state to actually collect the stories of groups traditionally under -represented “.
Tiece Ruffin, acting director of African studies at the university, took note of the 421 participants registered for the conference on the theme âReparations, revelations and racial justiceâ.
âWe are no longer pushed to the margins and no longer invisible. The African-American experience in the WNC and the Southern Appalachians is visible,â Ruffin said.
A panel of representatives from local reparations and racial justice movements across the country said reparations would help compensate for the forced slave labor and the lack of opportunities black Americans had to create and pass on wealth. to children.
“We’re like in this terrible game of Monopoly that’s been going on for 450 to 500 years. And I don’t want to give us the same $ 200 that I was 500 years ago,” said Rob Thomas, Asheville Community Liaison Officer. Racial Justice Coalition.
Leading the panel, Young noted how other groups facing government-sanctioned discrimination, such as Native Americans and Japanese Americans, had received reparations.
The former board member said the government had “multiple opportunities to atone for slavery,” including the famous 40-acre broken promise and post-civil war mules, New Deal programs. era of the Depression and the GI Bill after WWII which propelled many veterans back into the middle class but was not accessible to his veteran grandfather.
âBlack veterans couldn’t retain their post-war benefits like their white peers. While the GI Bill was federally mandated, guess what? It was implemented locally.â
Young said the historic Asheville Reparations Initiative in 2020 offers an opportunity to right those wrongs. But he criticized some of the city’s more recent moves, including the $ 366,000 contract paid to a consultant to help create and guide the Community Reparations Commission, which accepts applications until Nov. 15.
Instead, he said a census to gather opinions on reparations should be taken on black residents, who number 9,938, according to 2020 data.
“We could easily have used that (almost) $ 400,000 to employ part-time enumerators for a black census, right? Because every black voice should always be heard.”
Robin Street Simmons, who was alderman for Evanston when the town passed reparations for black residents in 2019, explained how the town became the first to implement a program.
Rue said there was no one model that would work for all cities and counties and that everyone in every place, black residents “have to come to the table and give their lived expertise on what it is. the evil.
“And then lawmakers, a strong legislative leader, like those here, have to find a viable path to adopt a policy and fund it.”
After hearing that discriminatory housing laws had deprived black residents of homes that could stabilize a family and be passed on or sold, Evanston donated money for down payments, mortgage payments or home repairs. The funds came from a recreational marijuana tax, which is legal in Illinois.
Rue said a change had occurred among federal lawmakers. There are now 194 House co-sponsors and 22 Senate co-sponsors for a national reparations law, “triple what it has ever been,” she said.
âWhen we start looking at local repairs, there were less than 70 co-sponsors in the House. So we see the momentum.â
Tulsa City Councilor Lori Decter-Wright, the only white panelist, spoke about her city’s movement from denial to acceptance and a formal apology this year for the 1921 racial massacre that wiped out one of the black communities the most prosperous in the country. After Asheville’s reparations resolution, Young was recruited to work with Decter-Wright and other advisers to change attitudes in the solidly Republican state.
She urged community members to be the impetus and “black churches to step up as they did 50 years ago” in promoting civil rights. Local movements in turn, she said, can become what pushes federal legislation through.
âPeople in DC can’t say, ‘Well that’s never been done before. We don’t know how to do it. Let’s discuss it for 50 years. “Because you can say, ‘Evanston did this. Asheville did this. Tulsa did this. What are you going to do ?”
Polls show that many Americans have radically changed their attitudes towards race and race relations in recent years. But the data shows feelings about the reparations remain mostly negative, said Sydni Scott, a Columbia University student who started the student-led amendment project that pressured local leaders to get it. repairs and does advocacy work on college and high school campuses.
Scott said there was “a lot of room” to nuance the conversation about reparations and to talk about “what reparation means, what debt is, what is owed, whether there is or not blacks who have succeeded despite systemic racism. “
âI think we can develop from the bottom up, from the local level up, an understanding of repairs focused on repair and restoration. build and accumulate wealth the same way other people in this country have done. “
Joel Burgess has lived at WNC for over 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He has written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Help us support this type of journalism by subscribing to the Citizen Times.